8 Ways to Travel South East Asia Cheaper, Longer and Better

Living and teaching in Vietnam was an amazing experience largely due to the fact that my small bank account went so far there! I never had to hold myself back, I could go on weekend road trips, drink lattes every morning, get new tailor made clothes and still put some Dong into savings! After 8 months of working, Sam and I set off to backpack South East Asia for 8 weeks. I was so excited to travel the lands of “20 dollars a day”. This number is not far from the truth!…for your food and accommodation. But when traveling you want to experience as much as possible! During our 8 weeks we were on a shoe string budget but we did splurge on experiences like Scuba Diving, Jungle tours and some fancy dinners. Here are 9 ways we saved big money while traveling.

1.Stay in guest houses, not hostels

People usually equate backpacker hostels with cheap travel but we found that splitting the cost of a room in a guest house got us a nicer place for less money! If you are traveling with a partner/friend/someone you feel comfortable sharing your bed with it is a great chance to get a bigger, more private room and usually a private bathroom for less than 10 dollars a person. We would skim www.Agoda.com usually before heading to a new location and always try and choose a place near the city, with breakfast included for less than 15 dollars. Sometimes we had to stay in further out locations but we got some great deals and usually paid 5-8 dollars a night each. And the owners of the guest houses are usually super nice and helpful!

2. Don’t buy online tours!

100% of the tours I’ve seen advertised at Guest houses/hostels are cheaper than tours online!! We wanted to go to Ha Long Bay and we shopped around online and found that just one night on a cruise was going to cost $140! That is way over our budget so we thought we would wait until we got to Hanoi then find some way to Ha Long Bay without a tour. Thankfully we did because our guest house booked us 2 nights in Ha Long bay all inclusive for $130! There are so many tour agencies on the streets, but I always go straight to a hostel with a good reputation (even if I am not staying there) and book through them. The tours are cheaper and I have always found that the people working at high rated hostels are much nicer and give an honest opinion about the tours.

3. Always avoid taxis

NEVER have a I had a good experience with taxis while traveling. It is so easy for them to take advantage of weary tourists who don’t know the area. They are expensive and after every cab ride I took in Asia we had to deal with the driver asking for extra money for some reason or another. Luckily they are getting easier to avoid!

This is how we avoided cabs as much as possible:

  • Take Uber, when possible: It still isn’t available everywhere in SE Asia and there are many problems with it (I once sat in an Uber from Densapar to Ubud for 3.5 hours because the driver got lost and his phone died!!) But it is always cheaper than a taxi!
  • Rent a motor bike: This is by far the easiest, fastest and cheapest way to get around. Although the roads may be intimidating at first, once you get the hang of the crazy roads you see more and have so much more fun.
  • Push bike/E bike rental: Cheaper still and easier to drive!
  • Shared shuttle: For any long distance trip we would ask our guest house to arrange a shuttle for us. They are available almost everywhere and much cheaper than cabbing it!
Not gonna get these views in a taxi! But you also won't get stuck on a hill...
Not gonna get these views in a taxi! But you also won’t get stuck on a hill…

4. Eat local and avoid eating on the beach!

Eating local is of course cheaper but sometimes it is overwhelming with so many options. I have found that going off the main road on side streets and finding a place with a lot of locals always has good food and better prices. In Bangkok we stayed in China town, the main street is bustling with food and tourists. We had a few beers on the main road but food was not cheap! We walked less than a block off the main road and found a street place that was crowded with locals and got delicious Pad See Mao for half the price. As for food on the beach, more often than not I find it bland and overpriced. Unless it is a beach bbq with fresh fish, then I can’t resist!

5. Shamelessly Bargain

Just do it. Even when in doubt, do it. I was so awkward with the bargaining process at first because it feels so unnatural to me, as an American. Now I find myself doing it excessively. At a Vietnamese market in a tourist area, you will always be told something costs at least double what you should pay. Learning simple phrases like “too expensive” is very handy. They will usually pull out a calculator and start slowly taking numbers off. Stay firm! Have a price you are willing to pay (obviously be reasonable) and don’t go higher. Walk away if necessary, you will almost always get waved back in. If you buy more you will always save more. I would usually go in and get a few bracelets, or shirts at a time so it saves money to do one big shop.

General prices we payed in the market, in Vietnamese Dong:

-T shirt: 60-80,000 vnd

-Elephant harem pants: 50-70,000 vnd

-Jewelry: 50-100,000 (usually bogo deal) vnd

-Silk Kimono: 100,000 vnd with some hard bargaining 

-Sun Dress: 150,000 vnd

**remember shopping is SE Asia is very cheap but some people have expectations that everything will be dirt cheap. People working at the markets work very hard usually everyday for a very little salary. Show respect and kindness when bargaining, and have fun with them! fullsizeoutput_2024

6. Find a water bottle refilling station

Bottled water is necessary in SE Asia but it is annoying to always run to the store for a new bottle, it adds up in price and is a huge waste of plastic. Check out the city or guest house you are staying in for water bottle refilling stations. Though they sometimes ask for a donation it is cheaper and mother nature will thank you.

7. Don’t be afraid to ask

Our 20(ish) dollar a day budget went much farther in some countries than other. In Bali, we could go through that budget with a latte and smoothie bowl! On Gili T island we found that we could eat and have a few beers but not do much else for entertainment. Obviously the beach is the best free entertainment Planet Earth offers but we had been beachside for about 8 months. We went to resorts and asked if we could use their pool for free if we bought a drink. We got many no’s before we got a yes but then we played pool side with a beer all day! Never hurts to ask!

8. Limit the booze budget

Sadly the biggest budget buster: Sorry Gin & Tonics, but I have to quit you. Nothing will tear through your budget faster than cocktails at those beach bars. To me it is worth the extra expense for the experience but I will limit it to a drink or 2 and then get a few at the convenience  store to enjoy at my guest house. Alcohol is cheaper in Asia than the US but it adds up quickly and cutting down on booze can save you HUNDREDS

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Thanks to these tips we traveled comfortably in SE Asia for 8 weeks for less than 1,700 each. What are your best budget travel hacks?

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